We take a look at the best dining options within walking distance (1 mile) of city landmarks worldwide. Here we offer our 5 IDEAL restaurants close to the Ho Chi Minh City’s famous Bui Vien backpacker street. For better or for worse, if you’ve ever visited south Vietnam’s metropolis Ho Chi Minh City, then you’ll have encountered the backpacker mecca of Pham Ngu Lao. Most will have sat on a plastic stool in the midst of walking street (in name only) Bui Vien, had a few cold beers over ice and watched the tableau unfold. Whether you’re a causal observer or an active participant, all manner of vice and vagary plays out here. What’s not guaranteed, however, is a good feed; Bui Vien’s kerb to kerb bars keep the area’s finest street food purveyors operating at arm’s length from the strip. All you’ve got to do, though, is veer a few minutes off the main drag, in any direction, and bingo; foodie heaven is found. Here are 5 IDEAL restaurants close to Bui Vien backpacker street, Ho Chi Minh City.
SECRET HOUSE (0.4 miles)
Sure, it pretty much goes without saying that the best kitchens in Vietnam are at street level, where family recipes have been cooked the same way for generations. As good as it gets, no doubt. But such eating isn’t conducive to the gentler pace of meal required for catching up on good conversation and revelry. If you’re looking for somewhere which lets you linger over excellent, refined home-style Vietnamese food which hasn’t been given the dreaded, style-over-substance fine dining treatment, then Secret House is your guy in District 1. This is food designed for sharing; their deep-fried catfish with do-it-yourself rice paper wraps and the abundance of herbs ubiquitous on the dining tables of Vietnam is a particular highlight. Ditto the stir fried dok kajorn flowers, heavy on wok smoke and soy sauce. There’s a credible wine list, too, with many by the glass, for those worn down by iced tea and icier beer.
Address: 55/1 Lê Thị Hồng Gấm, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bìn, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
MAISON MAROU (0.5 miles)
You heard it here first, the next big food trend could well be Vietnamese chocolate. Actually, everyone’s favourite discovery isn’t such a hidden gem anymore; a second Maison Marou, Vietnam’s premier chocolate producer, has now opened in the capital Hanoi. And the original, on Calmette street, District 1, is always rammed to the rafters. It’s no surprise, the chocolate (using cocoa grown in nearby Ba Ria and beans from Tien Giang) is exceptional. Coming to a high street near you soon, we think.
Address: 167-169, Calmette, Quận 1, Vietnam
BUN THIT NUONG CHI TUYEN (0.6 miles)
Okay, enough of the chairs with proper back support and air conditioning units, it’s time to hit the streets and do what the Viets do best; perch on plastic stools and eat some of the freshest, lightest grub in the world. Bun thit nuong is one of the South’s finest dishes; a barbecued pork salad over lightly fermented ‘bun’ noodles, crisp lettuce and loads of herbs. This is topped with roast peanuts, crispy shallots on occasion, pickled carrots and daikon, and a dipping sauce which defines southern Viet food; fish sauce, a little lime, sugar and chilli. There are proud purveyors all over town slinging this classic to hungry punters, but Chi Tuyen’s version, on Co Giang street, a great strip for street food, is perhaps our favourite. Make sure you include Cha Gio in your order, a crispy spring roll filled with glass noodles, wood ear mushrooms and usually, a little minced pork and prawn or crab.
Address: 175C Cô Giang, Phường Cô Giang, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
BO LA LOT HOANG YEN (0.6 miles)
If you want to sample some more delights of the street, you won’t have to walk far. Co Giang street is also home to a string of Bo La Lot restaurants, and this is one dish you want to try before leaving town. Minced beef is wrapped in betel leaf, grilled until smoky and served with a huge plate of herbs and lettuce, which you use to make your own wraps. So good, so moreish, and so cheap, too. At Hoang Yen’s you’ll see the addition of a sweet, sour mayonnaise on the beef wraps. If that’s not your thing (weirdly, it works), then let them know; a simply ‘khong’ (meaning ‘no’) + ‘may/yon/naise’ (just split those syllables out) should do the trick. The do-it-yourself assembly job routine makes for a more languid approach to dinner than some other street food joints where you may feel a little rushed. Great for an evening with friends and beer, then.
Address: 121 Cô Giang, Phường Cô Giang, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
PHO 2000 (0.6 miles)
Pho 2000, close to Ho Chi Minh’s famous Ben Thanh Market, is found via the stairs of a cafe, and the first floor position means it’s a cleaner, more comfortable meal than those eaten with eyes at exhaust pipe level. Though we’re strict devotees to Northern style pho (more savoury, less sugar, few to no herbs, no side plate of accoutrements), we have to admit, the pho here is really good. Bill Clinton is proudly pictured on the walls enjoying a bowl; so much so, he ordered two apparently. A more reliable judge of the pho’s quality is the fact that it’s packed, every lunchtime, with plenty of locals.